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A top insurgent in Afghanistan killed, coalition confirms

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The insurgent is a Saudi national based in eastern Afghanistan
  • He has been regarded as the "number two overall targeted insurgent in Afghanistan"
  • ISAF says his killing marks a "significant milestone in the disruption" of al Qaeda

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A top al Qaeda leader regarded as the "number two overall targeted insurgent" in Afghanistan has been killed in a coalition airstrike this month, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said Tuesday.

The militant is Abu Hafs al-Najdi, also known as Abdul Ghani -- a Saudi Arabian national who was based in Kunar province and operated between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His killing marks what ISAF calls "a significant milestone in the disruption of the al Qaeda network."

Abdul Ghani and other insurgents were killed in Kunar's Dangam district on April 13. That morning, he is said to have directed a suicide attack that killed a tribal elder and nine other civilians.

"He directed al Qaeda operations in the province, including recruiting; training and employing fighters; obtaining weapons and equipment; organizing al Qaeda finances; and planning attacks against Afghan and coalition forces," ISAF said.

Al Qaeda, the Islamic terror network that attacked the United States nearly 10 years ago, has a strong presence in Pakistan along the Afghan border and has wings in other unstable regions -- such as Yemen and North Africa.

The Long War Journal, which provides reports and analyses on present-day warfare in Afghanistan and elsewhere, said in a report Tuesday that Kunar province, which sits on the border with Pakistan, "is a known sanctuary for al Qaeda and allied terror groups." It said al Qaeda cells have been detected in eight of Kunar's 15 districts.

There have been recent claims from U.S. officials that al Qaeda has a small footprint of 50 to 100 operatives in Afghanistan, but analysts disagree.

Bill Roggio, managing editor of Long War Journal, said in Tuesday's report that "ISAF has admitted that al Qaeda has a significant presence in Afghanistan."

CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen said there is consistent reporting of foreign fighters such as Arabs and Uzbeks in the east and northeast of the county in "small but not insignificant numbers."

ISAF says coalition forces in the last month have killed more than 25 leaders and fighters in al Qaeda, which includes many foreign fighters. The Long War Journal said ISAF has killed or captured six top al Qaeda commanders and operatives in Kunar since September.

As for Abdul Ghani, he and his network struck "security force outposts" in Kunar in recent months.

"These attacks included a December attack on a coalition forward operating base and two February attacks against an Afghan security force outpost," ISAF said.

Abdul Ghani ordered others to kidnap foreigners and directed suicide bombings that target U.S. government officials. He has established training camps and instructed insurgents on how to build explosives and conduct attacks.

"He was also a key financial conduit between Pakistan-based leaders and insurgent operatives in Afghanistan. Abdul Ghani was able to streamline control of assets and provide considerably more funding to insurgent fighters," ISAF said.

Roggio, the managing editor of Long War Journal, said Abdul Ghani's real name is Saleh Naiv Almakhlvi Day, and he has been wanted by the Saudi government.

ISAF said Abdul Ghani had been meeting with a senior al Qaeda operative named Waqas when the airstrike occurred, and Roggio said Waqas is from Pakistan.

Roggio writes that despite al Qaeda's presence, American troops have "abandoned several combat outposts in Kunar and the neighboring province of Nuristan after major attacks on remote bases."

"U.S. Army commanders said that the outposts were closed or turned over to Afghan forces as part of a new counterinsurgency strategy to secure population centers. U.S. officials also claimed the U.S. presence in these remote valleys created the conditions for a local insurgency, and that the locals would cease fighting after U.S. forces left," Roggio said.

"The withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Korengal and Pech river valleys in Kunar has created more space for al Qaeda and the Taliban to expand their operations in the region."

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report